I tend this landscape of terrible sadness
because it is my duty to bring order to
this garden of loss, to pull out the weeds
that crowd out the flowers of the gone,
forsaken loved ones, the disappeared;
to water the roots of every bush of juniper
and quince, keep the level paths of stone
clear of fallen leaves and broken branches
because there are always more paths appearing,
more flowers for the newly murdered, more
green sprouting from fertile earth in honor
of the latest victims. At the end of each day
I look to my employers, the creators of
sorrows. It is because of them that I am
always working, always tired, my tools
and instruments never far from my hands.
There is never anyone to help or relieve me,
no support for these sad, dreary tasks,
no one but myself to listen to the long list
of complaints and objections I keep in
my back pocket like a contract that binds
me with misery. And no matter how much
I wash there is always dirt under my fingernails,
dark lines on the palms of my hands whose
only purpose is to help me tell visitors to
this beautiful garden how every story ends.
Photograph by Jose Padua
Of all the sadness in the world
there is nothing that can compare
with American sadness. When
America is sad the whole world
weeps. Whenever one American
is sad, at least two non-Americans
somewhere else in the world consider
the possibility of ending it all. When
a hundred Americans are sad, wars
are fought in faraway lands for
the great purpose of making these
hundred Americans happy again.
When a million Americans are sad,
every flag in America droops, then
slides an inch and then another inch
down the flag pole and nothing can
stop this descent until bold, confident
smiles return to these Americans’ faces.
American sadness, let’s make it clear,
is exceptional. Unlike what you may
have heard, it doesn’t always talk
softly, but it always carries a big stick
because no one is sad the way an
American is sad. No one drags his feet
through the dullness of a day, or
walks with her eyes looking downward
quite as sadly as an American who
feels sad because America is losing
a battle, coming in second, or washing
ashore with empty pockets and bad breath.
American sadness, of course, is the greatest
sadness in the world—do not look it
in the eye unless your intention is
to make amends. Do not settle for a
knowing grin, or a sliding into place
of the proper order of thought or things.
Work hard, do your best, and fight
whenever a fist is called for, or a bomb
needs to be dropped upon a civilian population
whose greatest misfortune is not being American.
But above all, keep American sadness at bay
like a ship that wrecks off shore through
instability or from fault of navigation.
Let’s remember to keep America happy.
Let’s keep America entertained.
Photograph taken in Alligator, North Carolina by Jose Padua